This past week a student of mine was in New York City and told me he’s discovered the joys of eavesdropping. He said he’s enjoying the musicality of the natives minding their own business while he listens in.
A few weeks ago the same happened to me in Portuguese. I was enjoying my coffee and slice of orange Chocottone at Casa Bauducco when I overheard two men talking about the use of English for travel and for business.
They were saying: “when you’re traveling on holiday you use English just to ask ‘how much?’ ‘Where?’ Etc your needs and objectives are different from professional or academic purposes.”
But when you have to use English to transmit and explain your work, or the challenges of attending a conference or just keeping the language alive.
They went on to say: “When you want to take a course in English you need to be able not only to understand a lecture but to take notes, to write your own reports and to express your own points of view.”
Now English as a second language has reached almost the same requirements of the mother tongue. It’s not enough to understand what someone is saying, you must also be able to explain what that person said. Not enough to understand a word in the midst of a shower of words… at the end you won’t have the essence of what was said.
so the role of the teacher and the students’ expectations must be constantly revisited so that delivery of what students want and need really takes place.
Assessoria em Idiomas
Language Lessons and Coaching, Translations, Interpreting
Having joined a family full of nephews (a few) and nieces (lots) I’ve been many a time asked if I could teach them English… my first instinct is to tell them – “I learned it by myself go and do likewise”, but my soft heart tends to say yes under some conditions:
They’ll do the assigned homework
They won’t act as royal pains
The latest niece to join the gang in showing interest to learn English is Maria Eduarda who at 14 had always resisted to the idea of learning English quoting that same old idea of “I not even know portuguese well why should I learn English” or “We speak Portuguese in Brazil” – etc etc, so…
So last week, Eduarda finally gave in, she asked my wife if she could teach her English and basic computer skills. Quickly I told my wife – try to teach her computer skills using English. That’s what I’ve always encouraged. Using language as a tool to reach different goals not a goal in itself.
We have amazing computers disguised as phones and it’s time for the teacher and students to feel smarter than their phones. You can use Siri or other voice assistant apps to practice and even learn a language.
If you have an iPhone, Siri can be your language practice partner. To ask Siri a question, you have to pronounce the English words correctly in order to get an answer, so you get a chance to work on your speaking skills. Through Siri’s answers, you’ll hear proper or standard pronunciation and learn the right ways to respond to certain questions.
You can ask Siri:
what’s the weather today?
How’s traffic now?
Set an alarm / Set a timer
Send an email to … / call …
You can also have some fun with Siri’s pre-loaded messages such as
When is the world going to end?
will you marry me?
can you teach English?
I’m fed up.
Just dictating a word if Siri gets your pronunciation correctly.
You can also say:
show me images of a “porcupine”
Although technology is extremely helpful when you’re learning English, real-world, human interaction also matters, but no question Siri can have more of a say in your language adventure.
This is another question that comes up quite often in the language classroom:
“Teacher, what’s the difference between accent and pronunciation?”
Well… in simple terms, accent is the voice you’ve developed based on where you were born and raised, your parents, family, classmates, etc all played a role in developing your accent in your mother tongue. Anyone has an accent! You realize it every time you move out of your area or comfort zone where most people speak like you.
Don’t even get me started with different British accents – one for every village and town.
Now… pronunciation refers to your intonation – the way you enunciate words and phrases.
I always tell my students that they don’t have to lose their accents – they are many times even considered charming by other speakers…. but they must be careful with their pronunciation so that they can be understood and not break down any communication attempt.
One example is the pronunciation of the letter R /r/ as a consonant sound. Many Brazilian, French and Spanish-speaking students find it hard to pronounce words such as
Rabbit – Raccoon – radio – red – Recipe – run etc
many times their default pronunciation with be with an H sound – they’ll say
Habbit – Haccoon – Hadio – Hed – Hecipe – Hun etc
My role as the teacher is to identify these problem sounds, raise the student’s awareness to it and encourage them to produce the adequate sound.
Speaking another language requires skills which can and must be developed.
This week I came across an episode of the podcast TEFL Training Institute with the question quoted above where Ross (one of the hosts) interviewed his parents who worked as teachers for a combined total of almost 50 years. And myself? Well, I started at my church’s Sabbath School initially teaching the primary class (kids between 8-12) . I was 15 at the time, so I’ve been involved with teaching for over 35 years. The questions asked on the podcast are relevant to all of us involved in teaching either as volunteers, professionals or both. Here they are:
1. How do you keep yourself motivated?
Professionally speaking – money is a motivating factor. yeah, yeah… You may say whatever you want but you still need to pay your bills at the end of the month and buy a pair of shoes once in a while. But although money is a very visible factor, it isn’t enough to get you going. I like speaking in different languages, so… I look forward to every opportunity I have to speak in English, Spanish or French. I love watching tv in other languages. I like reading magazines and newspapers from other countries. The students are the same but also different. You’ll have similar difficulties and challenges but their attitude, behaviour, reactions always surprise me. I’m always open to learning new words, getting to use new teaching materials. I wish I could attend more TEFL conferences, but sometimes they end up demotivating me using the same themes ad nauseam, being more of a marketplace where language schools and publishers come to sell their goods instead of teachers discussing their best practices and the future of their industry. Since traveling can be quite expensive I really appreciate when the organisers of those events make them available online on YouTube.
2. How has teacher training changed?
Sadly enough I haven’t notice great changes in teacher training. You may use a smart screen instead of an overhead projector but still present the same ideas, and interaction activities.
3. What advice do you have to new teachers?
Welcome to this rewarding career. Yes, there will be challenges and you will never become a millionaire from your classes (Some exceptions may apply) but you will be always learning and always growing if not from anything else, from at least being in touch with some wonderful human beings, yes, you’ll also encounter some dreadful, horrid creatures, but they are still, thank goodness, too few and far in between.